Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Forest reps meet with commissioners

By Alannah Allbrett

The U.S. Forest Service travel plan proposal, to close over 200 miles of trails for motorized vehicles, is being challenged by Clearwater County Commissioners who filed an appeal with the forest service Feb. 22. County Commissioner Stan Leach said an appeal is designed to stop an action, and it’s the first time since he became a commissioner in 2003, that they have had the need to do that. “Typically, we want them to do more than they are doing, not less,” said Leach.

Explaining how the forest service process works, Leach said “When a travel plan is enacted, that’s the direction the forest is going to take for the life of the plan. You can challenge their decision or identify a certain portion of it as flawed. There may be certain things they didn’t envision when the 1987 plan was adopted,” said Leach, and that’s why the county is filing an appeal.

In an attempt to hear the issues and see if some things can be solved easily, Forest Service Supervisor Rick Brazell met last week with Clearwater County’s three commissioners, the county’s Prosecuting Attorney, E. Clayne Tyler, Sheriff Chris Goetz, and Alan Deyo (who has filed a separate appeal as a private citizen). Representatives from Idaho County were included in the meeting via a telephone conference call. Idaho County has filed a joint appeal to protect their interests in the trail system.

Both counties are heavily dependent upon recreational and tourism dollars, which include the use of motorcycles on the many backcountry trails. Leach pointed out that motorcycle riders are chiefly the ones maintaining those trails in useable condition. “If those trails are closed,” said Leach, “all that goes away.” Ironically, if a trail falls into disuse and is no longer maintained, then it eventually gets pulled off of forest service maps – from lack of use. It’s a “Catch 22” situation.

When asked how the county can survive with these kinds of land use restrictions, Leach said, “We’ll always survive, but each tool helps our economy. By doing this, they are taking away one more tool when we are trying to get our economy going. Things like this just restrict us and make it a lot harder to do our jobs. We would love nothing more than to be able to pay our own way.”

Leach characterized the meeting as a respectful one and noted that “Brazell does not have a lot of wiggle room. He has to listen to all 20 appeals (from both sides of the issue) and then send his findings along to Region I headquarters in Missoula, MT. I have a lot of respect for him; there is not a whole lot he is going to be able to do. They will notify us of their decision. We are in a kind of ‘wait and see mode’ right now,” said Leach.

If trails are closed, the only course remaining for Clearwater County is to consider filing a legal suit.

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